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Recently, I stopped by the building block “wonderland” that is Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a temporary exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

I watched children (and also adults) busily absorbed in designing their own Lego creation - choosing from 200,000 Lego bricks placed within the exhibit as a hands-on activity for visitors. Some kids were likely inspired by the impressive Lego models of famous skyscrapers and other buildings displayed there. Many kids immediately dove into the “bottomless pit” of Lego bricks, jazzed by the opportunity to build something wonderful from their own imaginations.

And children DO love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one. Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.” Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity. Toy bricks, logs and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Over the last 150 years, entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted generations of children. Which is your favorite?

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District School Building Block Set, 1876-1886. THF300131. (Gift of Mrs. Clemens August Haass)

After the Civil War, the Charles M. Crandall Company’s building blocks were all the rage. Like Lego bricks, they could be easily and securely linked together in a “thousand and one” ways. By 1879, Crandall offered 28 sets of interlocking blocks and jointed figures.

This “District School” set was a miniature version of a common childhood experience of the era: the one-room rural school. Crandall advertised that children would “laugh over this group of teachers and scholars” as they built the school and arranged the figures. The “District School” had playful appeal, combining entertainment with education--children could learn their alphabet while having fun.

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Tinkertoys, 1914-1925. THF97403

Tombstone cutter Charles Pajeau noticed how much fun his children had sticking pencils into empty thread spools and assembling them into imaginative forms. So, he designed a shorter wooden spool with one hole drilled in the center and a series of holes along the edge. Kids could now build at angles and connect multiple dowels at once. Tinkertoys were born! In 1914, Pajeau started a company to produce and market the toy.

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Erector Set, 1915. THF95319

As toy marketer A.C. Gilbert rode the train from New Haven to New York on business, he watched as workers erected an electrical system along the railroad line using steel girders that had been riveted together. This inspired Gilbert to design a construction set for older boys with metal girders, panels, wheels, gears, and pulleys. His marketing spoke directly to boys, encouraging them to build.

Boys used their Erector sets to build small versions of steam engines, Ferris wheels, zeppelins, bridges, elevators, trucks, cranes, and other devices. The toy not only delighted boys--it also appealed to their parents, who appreciated the way Erector sets could introduce their kids to careers in engineering. The company even offered “degrees” from its “Engineering Institute.”

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Lincoln Logs, about 1960. THF6627 (Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs. Introduced in 1916, these sturdy, miniature logs had interlocking notches. Lincoln Logs were named after Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin.

After World War II, Lincoln Logs got another boost as they became an iconic Baby Boomer toy. In the 1950s, nostalgia for the American West and the frontier had kids crafting log buildings with their Lincoln Log sets. With their nostalgic connection to America’s past, Lincoln Logs were marketed as “America’s national toy.”

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Lego Building Set, 1976-1983. THF59

Legos, developed in Denmark during the 1950s, first appeared in the United States in 1962. With their small interlocking studs and tubes, Lego plastic bricks held together well - yet could easily be pulled apart. Lego bricks offered “no limits on what you can build.” Two Lego blocks could be joined in 24 different ways. Six blocks--over 100 million ways.

Lego bricks can be assembled and connected to create buildings, vehicles, and even human figures. Though the design and purposes of individual pieces have evolved over the years, each Lego brick--whether made in the 1950s or the present--remains compatible in some way with existing pieces.

Duplo bricks - larger sized versions made for preschoolers - debuted in 1969. They were easier for tiny hands to maneuver.

Over the years, Lego has created Lego sets with a variety of themes, including space, pirates, castles, robots, and the Wild West. They have licensed themes from popular cartoons, films, and video games--like Batman, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.

With their endless creative possibilities, Lego bricks have staying power--and fans worldwide. In 2000, Legos were named “Toy of the Century” by Fortune magazine and the British Association of Toy Retailers.

As a kid, I loved to design and build houses. Growing up, my siblings and I had Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and an Erector set. I rather envied my friend--she had Block City, pre-Lego plastic bricks with architectural details like doors and windows (which Lincoln Logs lacked). My grandmother (who sewed a lot) kept a box full of empty spools and some wood scraps for us to build with--we created imaginary “towns” all over her living room floor. She never seemed to mind.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, making, LEGO, childhood, by Jeanine Head Miller, toys and games

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Big and Little Bird reinforce the concept of contrasting sizes in this 1973 Playskool puzzle. THF97463

No television show has influenced how we think about children’s learning and thought processes as much as Sesame Street. For 50 years, this innovative TV show has continually broken barriers in its portrayal of diverse human interactions and relationships, its clever integration of Jim Henson’s wildly creative Muppets, and its rapid-fire approach to teaching basic educational concepts.

The idea for Sesame Street began back in 1966 at a dinner party hosted by Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV publicist turned documentary producer, and her husband Tim. In attendance was Lloyd Morrisett, who was both Vice President of the philanthropic Carnegie Corporation and an experimental psychologist interested in children’s education. At the dinner, Morrisett described his three-year-old daughter’s fascination with television—which included not only tuning in to Saturday morning cartoons, but also watching the pre-programming test patterns on the screen and reciting every commercial jingle by heart. Talk turned to the potential of television as a medium for educating young children. Could the seemingly addictive quality of TV be harnessed to both entertain and instruct?

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This monster with the insatiable appetite—especially for cookies—has, under adult pressure, increasingly shown an awareness for healthy eating habits. THF97460

Cooney quickly developed a proposal entitled, “The Potential Use of Television in Preschool Education.” Her goal was groundbreaking at the time—to test the premise that TV could help level the playing field in education, preparing less advantaged three- to five-year-olds for school by teaching basic academic skills, self-esteem, and positive socialization. In March 1968, Cooney and Morrisett announced the formation of the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) and set out to create an educational TV show that would both appeal to young children and help them get a jump on learning. With an eight-million-dollar startup grant from private foundations and government agencies (including the rather skeptical Department of Education), Cooney was able to test ideas for the type of show she had in mind.

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The colorful, fast-paced Batman TV show, which premiered in January 1966, provided one of many inspirations for Joan Ganz Cooney in creating
Sesame Street. THF6651

Cooney’s reference points included the rapid-fire pacing of the hip new adult-oriented TV show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. The campy breakout TV show Batman also provided a model, with its fast-paced action as well as its bright, bold colors and even its use of cartoon balloons. Cooney drew additional inspiration from short TV commercials, with their simple melodies in bright major keys. She did not get inspiration from most children’s TV shows, which she thought were dull, slow-paced, and seemed more oriented to adults than kids—with the possible exception of the kid-friendly Captain Kangaroo.

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This 1970s Fisher-Price music box plays the song, “The People in Your Neighborhood,” while the
Sesame Street scene moves horizontally across the “TV screen.” THF135804

Cooney soon realized that, while she had plenty of vision, she needed help in writing, directing, and producing the show. For this, she called on several veterans from Captain Kangaroo—most significantly Jon Stone, who played such a significant leadership role in shaping Sesame Street that he took over as executive producer for the next 20-odd years. Other talented and dedicated scriptwriters, composers, and directors also joined the team, while psychologists and educators lent their support from the beginning.

Cooney and her collaborators initially created a show that included brief skits, musical numbers, cartoons, and live-action video footage—all basically teaching school-readiness concepts. The idea of portraying a diverse group of people living and working together in a community was intentional, providing a hopeful real-life model for an integrated society, which encouraged respect, mutual tolerance, and cross-cultural friendship. The live action scenes were interspersed with pre-taped “commercials”—that is, short “bits” about letters and numbers presented either as animated segments or featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets. The live-action segments were purposely kept separate from the pre-taped “commercials,” as researchers felt that combining these “reality” and “fantasy” elements would confuse children.

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Having the sweetly quizzical Big Bird live in a nest near, and interact with, the live actors on
Sesame Street became a key to the show’s success. THF97451

Initial testing, however, revealed that children thought the live-action scenes were boring, the dialog tedious and lengthy. On the other hand, they found the short “commercials” to be catchy and memorable. Pushing back on the researchers’ advice, Cooney and Stone brought in Jim Henson as a full-time producer, while his Muppet creations Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch joined the live-action human cast. The resulting interaction between humans and Muppets—seamless and convincing—provided the missing alchemy. The foundation was laid for Sesame Street as we know it today.

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Ongoing episodes about ultra-serious Bert and fun-loving Ernie reinforce to children that vastly different personalities can still be good friends. THF92308

The first episode of Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969 and the show aired weekdays on the new Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network. It was immediately hailed as a groundbreaking blend of learning and fun, despite some criticism about its high entertainment quotient, its threat to teachers for undermining early school lessons, and—in Mississippi—its initial banning because of its integrated cast. Time magazine featured popular Sesame Street character Big Bird on its November 23, 1970 cover, next to the headline, “Sesame Street: TV’s Gift to Children.” This issue devoted nine pages to the show’s impact and importance, calling it “the best children’s show in TV history.”

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Puppeteer Kevin Clash breathed new energy and vitality into Elmo in the 1980s, but this furry red Muppet became a breakout star in 1996, when comedienne Rosie O’Donnell featured both Clash and this doll on her TV show. THF176791

As Sesame Street has continually changed and grown with the times, its popularity and impact have endured. Comedienne Rosie O’Donnell, whose remarks on her own TV show helped transform Elmo from a minor character to a superstar, described the show’s unique contributions this way:

"From the beginning Sesame Street encouraged imagination and playfulness. It always felt like a show to me about freedom, and it has always spoken to children in a pure and truthful way. Children are children, rich or poor, and there is a language of truth that is innate to these tiny, undeveloped beings that they can hear. Sesame Street had respect for its audience and respect for itself. They never cut any corners and they stuck to their democratic ideals."

Innovative, groundbreaking, and radical when it was introduced, Sesame Street has become nothing short of an American institution.

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

childhood, TV, popular culture, Jim Henson, education, by Donna R. Braden


Launching today from The Henry Ford, Innovate Curriculum helps students connect core subjects like STEAM, social studies and English to real-world applications through an interdisciplinary, hands-on online curriculum that accelerates 21st century skills development.

Innovate Curriculum leverages primary sources of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation, an unparalleled collection of 26 million artifacts that sheds light on the way people have innovated across 300 years of history.

Learn more and register for a chance to win a free year of Innovate for your classroom here.

innovation learning, education, childhood, educational resources

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As we continue to celebrate our first year of What We Wore--our new collections platform in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation--a new group of garments from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories makes its debut.

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This season it’s all about kids.

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Sailor Suit, about 1925
Sailor suits were popular from the 1870s into the 1930s—with short or long pants for boys and skirts for girls. These nautically-themed outfits were usually made of sturdy washable fabrics and, though stylish, allowed kids a bit more freedom of movement.

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Jumper and Blouse, 1958–1960
(Gift of Mary Sherman)
In the 1950s, girls still wore dresses or skirts much of the time—for formal occasions and for school. Pants were play clothes—what girls wore after school to run around the yard or play indoors.

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"Wrecker" Coordinating Shirt and Pants, 1978
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
Designs with kid appeal often appear on children’s casual clothing— images like cars and trucks, princesses, dinosaurs, animals, butterflies, and monsters.

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Blouse and Pant Outfit, about 1935
This girl’s casual outfit was inspired by adult fashion—beach pajamas, informal resort wear sporting wide pantlegs. Cheerful, pastel prints were popular during the Depression era.

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Leisure Suit, 1977
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
The casual and versatile leisure suit reached the height of popularity with adult men in 1977, when John Travolta wore a white version to the disco in the movie Saturday Night Fever.  Even kids donned this ultimate—and short-lived—1970s fashion trend.

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Dress, about 1920
(Gift in Memory of Augusta Denton Roddis)
In the 1920s, simple dresses were preferred for younger girls. Linen fabric and pale colors were popular for summer wear. The understated details on this dress are embroidered, crocheted and tatted—the children’s mother was a skilled needlewoman.

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The Building Blocks of Childhood

Children love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one.  Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.”  Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity.  Toy bricks, logs, and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted new generations of children.  Which is your favorite? For the LEGO fans, Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a first-of-its-kind, limited-engagement exhibition, is rising up in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation October 12 through January 5, 2020.

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Erector Set No. 1, about 1915

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Junior Tinkertoy for Beginners Set, 1937-1946

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American Plastic Bricks, about 1955 (
Gift of Miriam R. Epstein)

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Lincoln Logs, about 1960 (
Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

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Lego Building Set, 1976-1983

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Dream Builders Super Blocks Building Set, 1991-1992

childhood, What We Wore, toys and games, Henry Ford Museum, fashion, by Jeanine Head Miller


Congratulations to all winners from the 2019 Invention Convention U.S. Nationals, presented by United Technologies! See the award ceremony for yourself above, and then read our complete list of winners here.

childhood, inventors, Invention Convention Worldwide, innovation learning, events, education

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As another school year begins to wind down, take a look through our digital collections at all things related to school.

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First Day of School
Along with the first day of school often came fresh new school supplies: crayons with pointy tips, pencils with pristine erasers, and even a new schoolbag or backpack. And for many, it meant getting a brand new outfit to wear on that all-important first day of school.

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Saluting the Students of the AAA School Safety Patrol®

Like clockwork, fall’s arrival brings with it a return to school for children throughout the United States. Whether they walk, ride a bike, take a bus, or get dropped off by an adult, the students’ daily trips to and from class will be safer thanks to the dedicated efforts of the AAA School Safety Patrol. Established by the American Automobile Association in 1920, the program’s core mission – to encourage safety awareness among young people – remains unchanged.

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Lunchbox Fandom
Since the 1950s, children have been persuading their parents that they absolutely must have a school lunch box sporting their favorite character. 

Expert Sets
One-Room Schools
Children and Desks


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1927 Blue Bird School Bus

This 1927 Blue Bird is the oldest surviving school bus in America. Albert Luce, Sr., built his first bus in 1925 by mounting a purchased wood body to a Ford truck frame. The body could not withstand the Georgia roads. Luce, convinced he could make a better bus, applied a steel framework under the wood body. His success led him to make school buses full time.

This is the first in a long line of buses made by Blue Bird, one of the country's major school bus builders. It is the oldest surviving school bus in America. In 1925, Albert L. Luce, Sr. owned two Ford dealerships in Georgia when a customer came in and ordered a bus to transport his workers. Mr. Luce purchased a wooden bus body and mounted it on a Ford Model TT truck. But the body began rattling apart before the customer could even finish paying for the bus. Mr. Luce was convinced he could make a better bus body and, by 1927 he had built the school bus you see here. The key to success was a strong steel framework under the wood. Within a few years Mr. Luce sold his Ford dealerships and began making school buses full time. Chassis: 1927 Ford Model TT Truck Engine: 176 cu. in., 20 hp Body: Hand built using steel and wood.

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William Holmes McGuffey School
The McGuffey School was built in Greenfield Village in 1934, created out of barn logs from the 1790s southwestern Pennsylvania farmstead where textbook author William Holmes McGuffey was born. Children living in frontier communities learned to read in rustic schoolhouses like this one. McGuffey's Eclectic Readers gave them an easy, standardized way to do it.

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Miller School

Henry Ford attended Miller School at age nine. He followed a favorite teacher, John Chapman, there from the Scotch Settlement School. The small, one-room building was typical of rural schools throughout the United States in the 1800s. Ford had this replica built in Greenfield Village in the early 1940s.

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Scotch Settlement School

Henry Ford attended this one-room schoolhouse from age seven to ten. Because of Ford's fondness for his teacher John Chapman, he not only followed Chapman to Miller School but also brought Chapman's house to Greenfield Village. This school, originally built in 1861 in Dearborn Township, was the first classroom of the Greenfield Village school system Henry Ford started in 1929.

AAA, fashion, childhood, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, Scotch Settlement School, school

Toys That Fly!

December 19, 2018 Archive Insight
Sure, trains may still be the classic holiday transportation toy (thank you very much, Polar Express), but some children still look to the skies when putting together their wish lists. We’ve got any number of pilotable playthings in our collection, but here are a few of our favorites.

“Mystoplane” Toy Airplane Set, 1946-1947 (2008.23.1)
“Mystoplane” Toy Airplane Set, 1946-1947 (2008.23.1)

“It’s scientific! It’s educational! It’s thrilling!” So claims the Mastercraft Toy Company about Mystoplane. This little airplane flies through the air without rubber bands or batteries, but with the wave of a magic wand. In reality, the Mystoplane is an extremely thin piece of foil, and the wand’s mystical power is plain old static electricity. Rub the wand against the included cloth and the resulting static charge causes the foil airplane to float near the wand’s tip. It’s low-tech fun at its best.

P-51 Mustang Model Airplane Kit, 1970-1980 (2016.107.1)
P-51 Mustang Model Airplane Kit, 1970-1980 (2016.107.1)

North American Aviation’s P-51 Mustang ranked among the pre-eminent fighter airplanes in World War II. With its powerful engine and its efficient wing and fuselage design, the Mustang flew faster and farther than other Allied fighters. Mustangs escorted B-17 and B-24 bombers on raids deep into German territory. When fitted with external drop tanks to increase its fuel capacity, a Mustang could make it all the way from Britain to Berlin and back. The P-51D version, equipped with a Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engine, topped out at more than 430 miles per hour. This balsa wood model doesn’t have quite the range or speed – but how much can you expect from a rubber band?

Star Wars Play Set, Millennium Falcon, circa 1979
Star Wars Play Set, Millennium Falcon, circa 1979 (2002.60.7)

Part of Kenner Products’ line of action figures based on the original Star Wars films, this Millennium Falcon spaceship didn’t technically fly…but in the hands of an imaginative kid (or kid at heart), she’ll make point-five past lightspeed, carrying Han Solo and Chewbacca (sold separately) on adventures across the galaxy.

The level of detail, functionality, and compatibility with the popular 3.75” action figures made this the definitive Millennium Falcon toy for the first generation of Star Wars fans.  Updated versions of the toy produced from 1995 to 2005 reused many of the original design elements.  She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.

Star Wars Vehicle Play Set, Darth Vader TIE Fighter, 1979-1980
Star Wars Vehicle Play Set, Darth Vader TIE Fighter, 1979-1980 (2002.60.5)

An antagonist for Kenner Products’ Millennium Falcon, the evil Darth Vader’s ship featured a battery-powered “laser” light and sound effect, and – spoiler warning for a movie released in 1977 – a button-activated “exploding” action that made this toy fly apart

Spin Master “Air Hogs Hyper Stunt Drone,” 2016 (2016.114.1)
Spin Master “Air Hogs Hyper Stunt Drone,” 2016 (2016.114.1)

Static electricity and rubber bands were fine for the 20th century, but today’s toys are a bit more complex. This Air Hogs micro drone runs on two AAA batteries for the remote control and a USB-rechargeable battery in the drone itself. The little flyer is designed to be as user-friendly as possible, with a basic “beginner” mode and a set of shields that allow it to bounce off of obstacles. (“Crash and keep going.” If only everything in life was so simple!) Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can switch over to “advanced” mode, remove the shields, and fly as high as your confidence – and your ceiling – allows.

Never underestimate the power of play. You never know what inspiration a toy might spark – even years after the fact. You may have heard the story of the two brothers whose father brought home a rubber band-powered toy helicopter. They played and played with the little gadget and, when it broke, built versions of their own. Years later, they remembered those toys as they experimented with a new, larger project in the dunes near Kitty Hawk…

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, and Jim Orr is Image Services Specialist at The Henry Ford.

childhood, by Jim Orr, by Matt Anderson, toys and games

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Members of Detroit’s Houghton School safety patrol listen attentively to traffic safety officer Anthony Hosang in 1950. (64.167.536.16)


Like clockwork, fall’s arrival brings with it a return to school for children throughout the United States. Whether they walk, ride a bike, take a bus, or get dropped off by an adult, the students’ daily trips to and from class will be safer thanks to the dedicated efforts of the AAA School Safety Patrol. Established by the American Automobile Association in 1920, the program’s core mission – to encourage safety awareness among young people – remains unchanged.

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Automobile Club of Michigan Safety Patrol Armband, 1950-1960. THF153486

AAA School Safety Patrol members generally are chosen by their teachers or principals and, with their parents’ permission, given training in traffic safety – typically over the summer, so they’re ready to go as soon as the school year starts. These young patrollers are then stationed near the school at crosswalks, bus unloading areas and carpool drop-off locations to ensure that their fellow students remain cautious near motorized traffic.

More experienced patrollers may be promoted to officer positions like captain, lieutenant or sergeant. These ranks bring with them additional responsibilities like keeping daily records, writing regular reports, or assigning other patrol members to specific duties or stations.

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AAA School Safety Patrol Lieutenant Badge, 1950-1965. THF151056

It’s important to note that safety patrol members work together with – not in place of – adult crossing guards and traffic officers. Nevertheless, the patrollers play an important role in keeping students safe. And they learn early and important lessons about responsibility, too. Not surprisingly, many safety patrol alumni go on to careers characterized by public service or proven leadership. Former patrollers include Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and notable Michiganders like Governor William Milliken, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, and Detroit Tiger Al Kaline.

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The Official Song of the Safety Patrol, 1937. (87.135.1661)

The Henry Ford’s artifact collection includes armbands and badges worn by AAA School Safety Patrol members over the years. Our archival collection includes a copy of the sheet music for “Song of the Safety Patrol,” written by Lucille Oldham in 1937.

We salute these conscientious students working tirelessly throughout the school year to keep their classmates safe. Today, there are more than 654,000 children serving as patrollers in schools across the United States. Thanks to the program these students are empowered with a sense of responsibility and leadership as they protect their classmates going to and from school each day. 

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childhood, school, by Matt Anderson, AAA

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Stemie Coalition Logo-jpegI’m pleased to announce that The Henry Ford and the STEMIE Coalition have officially joined forces to strengthen our invention education offerings across the country and around the world. Several members of the STEMIE Coalition are now part of The Henry Ford organization.


For those of you who don’t know, The STEMIE Coalition is a non-profit, umbrella membership organization of youth invention and entrepreneurship programs across the U.S. and globally and is best known for producing NICEE, the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo.

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We held the 2018 NICEE for the very first time here in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this past June, and now we will be the permanent home of that program during which more than 400 students from 20 states and two countries qualified to attend.   

In fact, when we started the conversations around the planning and hosting of NICEE here at The Henry Ford, it was then that we realized how similar our missions are, that both organizations shared a vision of creating the next generation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs and it was apparent to us that combined, we could reach significantly more students and make a greater impact.

I see this as a marriage of missions. The STEMIE Coalition’s mission to train every child in every school in invention and entrepreneurship skills aligns with The Henry Ford’s quest to move our country forward through innovation and invention. This expands the pipeline of products available to address kids preK-12 and to increase the accessibility of invention education for students of all backgrounds. This is an investment in unleashing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and creating tomorrow’s workforce.

Thank you, as always, for helping The Henry Ford activate our mission and for your continued support. See you soon.

Patricia E. Mooradian is President & CEO of The Henry Ford.

education, childhood, Invention Convention Worldwide, entrepreneurship, innovation learning, by Patricia E. Mooradian

Actually, the Tri-Motor of this story wasn't small at all. The all-metal airplane was rugged, dependable and equally adaptable to passenger and freight service. Built by Ford Motor Company from 1926 to 1933, the Ford Tri-Motor flew in many early American airline fleets and became the most popular airliner of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

In all, 199 Tri-Motors were built during its seven-year production run. Over the course of their lives, many of the planes found varying uses, including the 48th Tri-Motor built, purchased in 1928 by Reid, Murdoch & Company. The manager of the sales department for Ford's Lincoln division, Arthur Hatch, had completed the sale of the plane while traveling by train with the president of Reid, Murdoch, & Company. The Chicago-based company had big plans for their Tri-Motor and turned its interior into a showroom for their Monarch Foods brand. A few of the canned items stocked on the plane included sweet pickles, peanut butter, popcorn, toffees, sardines, peas, asparagus, lima beans and corn.

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Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-48 Used as a "Flying Grocery Store" for Reid, Murdoch and Company's Monarch Foods, 1928. THF94915

When it came time for the delivery of the Tri-Motor, the president of Reid, Murdouch & Co. insisted on coming to the Dearborn, Michigan, plant to personally turn the check over to Arthur Hatch. Named "Independence," the modified plane began its life as a flying salesroom, carrying samples of over 200 different food products to airports throughout the country. Occasionally, Monarch's pint-sized advertising characters, "The Teenie Weenies," also accompanied the plane on its stops.

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William B. Mayo, Head of Ford's Aircraft Division, Edsel B. Ford, president of Ford Motor Company, the president of Reid, Murdoch & Co. and Arthur Hatch, manager of the Lincoln sales department. THF285025

The Teenie Weenies
, a popular comic strip created by cartoonist and author William Donahey, began appearing in the Chicago Tribune during 1914. The adventures of the 2-inch tall "Teenie Weenies" took place in a town made-up of buildings created from recycled household products like shoes or food containers. In 1924, the Chicago Tribune discontinued the comic series allowing Reid, Murdoch & Co. to take advantage of the characters for use in advertising their Monarch Foods brand. In the company's advertisements, the cartoon characters used Monarch food containers for their buildings. On occasion, real-life examples of the characters (child actors) made appearances with Monarch's Tri-Motor.

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"The General" and "The Policeman" inspect the Ford Tri-Motor known as the Independence. THF94917

Besides the Ford Tri-Motor, the Teenie Weenies have another Michigan connection. On the shores of Lake Superior, east of Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, sits a tiny town that goes by the name of Grand Marais. In the mid-1920s, Reid, Murdoch & Co. built William Donahey a summer cabin there. Inspiration for the building came right from Donahey's Teenie Weenies comic strip. The result – a building in the shape of a pickle barrel – today welcomes visitors as the Pickle Barrel House Museum.

Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

by Ryan Jelso, childhood, shopping, food, Ford Motor Company, airplanes